Where to Begin with Sustainable Business Practices


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Sustainability Ahead
Created on July 14, 2014

Small businesses that use sustainable business practices as part of their operating and marketing strategy often realize significant economic gains.  However, creating market messaging for greening a business operations can be intimidating, or worse, lead a small business owner to think moving to a sustainable business model will require large capital outlays. That is a flawed perception. The challenge for many companies, then, is identifying where the greatest opportunities are for them at the lowest cost to implementation.

A large number of firms start with internal practices, which may include process efficiencies, reducing landfill destined waste, reducing water use and implementing recycling programs. Each of these practices has a direct, measurable financial impact on a company. For example, improving process efficiencies may result in moving products and services to market more quickly. Reducing waste will also reduce the expenses associated with waste removal and disposal. A water bill declines with less water usage. A recycling program contributes to reducing waste removal and other associated expenses.

Small business owners should also look at maximizing economic and sustainability benefits through building and physical structure improvements. Specific types of sustainable business practices that fall into this category include upgrading lighting and windows; installing better or additional insulation; adding building wraps to facility expansions; and cleaning, maintaining, and upgrading HVAC systems.

Building and facility improvement opportunities are identifiable with an energy audit, frequently available at low or no cost from the local utility company. Information on specific products to consider and compare is available through the government-backed Energy Star program.

Employee engagement is another low cost opportunity to improve sustainability practices that produce measurable upside benefits. Practices that fall under this label include mentor-based training and education, employee health and wellness challenges, and enabling flex hours.

The most significant easily measured action linked to employee engagement is retention. Keeping skilled employees saves a firm literally tens of thousands of dollars in recruiting, hiring and training expenses. The more specialized a company is, the more important employee retention becomes.

Health and wellness challenges can be made into a game that benefits the employee, the firm and the community. For example, set up an alternative transportation challenge for a fixed period of time. At the end of the challenge the winner would receive a token prize such as a gift certificate to a healthy restaurant or a months membership at the local recreation center. Be creative, but keep it simple.

Some employee engagement activities are more difficult to measure. These include better customer relationships and improved productivity. Continuity is the foundation in developing strong business relationships. Productivity improvements come from employees knowing how their role impacts desired outputs. Engaged employees are one of a company's key sources for identifying process improvements. This brings us full circle identifying where a business should look to begin implementing sustainable business practices.

For more information, check out SBAs sustainable business practices online resource guide.

Martha Young is co-founder of Sustainability4SMEs, a research company based in Golden, Colorado. She can be reached at MarthaY@Sustainability4SMEs.com. Case studies and other free assets for small and mid-sized businesses considering implementing sustainable business practices are available on the website.

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Last updated: 04/19/2017 - 4:11pm